If I tell you about a saddler-leather goods shop, located avenue Victor Hugo (so, not far away from the Champs Elysées), you will probably think about a dusty, elitist brand, which plays on its image with inflated prices and which would not have its place on JamaisVulgaire.
And yet, that is exactly what I will tell you about, but the exact opposite of what I discovered.
On JamaisVulgaire, we often tell you about very young brands that are 100% online, which sell without any intermediary and regularly make you discover new know-how.
However, it would be wrong to think that these brands do everything that old ones used to, only better, and that the latter will decline.
The situation is far from being this simplistic, as proved by older and more prestigious houses, which are lucid about the market, and rapidly take the turn on digital, while offering some very competitive products.
For instance, it is the position of Guibert Paris, a saddlery and leather goods house founded in 1999 by Pierre Guibert, a passionate rider himself.
I Guibert Paris : cutting-edge craftsmanship digitized with lucidity
1 Reconciling universe and technical
Everything begins in 1999 when Guibert opened its doors at 22 avenue Victor Hugo, near the Arc de Triomphe. At first, the shop only answered the needs peculiar to horse riding and only offered riding tack.
In order to efficiently develop a complete range, he worked with the designer Robert Goosens (Dior, Chanel, YSL), who allowed him to offer an creative line of jewellery. Why jewellery ? We will talk about that a little further down.
For the know-how, he called upon the saddler Frédéric Butet.
Finally, to ensure the technical efficiency of his products, he collaborated with Olivier Lepage (former vet for the French horse riding teams) who allowed him to create an anatomical bridle that is the most comfortable for the horse.
When looking at the contact points between the horse and the bridle, we understand that the tack must be inflexible on the quality of a bridle, especially regarding the treatment of the leather.
The recipe is proven since the brand has nowadays two prestigious ambassadors in show jumping : Alexandra Ledermann (gold medalist at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996) and Patrice Delaveau (double world vice-champion).
2 Why saddlery is the ancestor of leather goods
Guibert was able to enjoy the know-how of the saddler to open itself to a public, not necessarily horse riders, who appreciate the horse riding world, and in particular, all the demands and perfectionism that go along with it, and who recognize immediately the high-end quality of its products.
Some brands use the horse-riding world as a product positioning to sell their products prohibitively expensive, but their products unfortunately do not have anything to do with the requirements in the field.
In general, the role of the equipment is to improve the communication between the horse and its rider, and to preserve all the sensitivity and nuances thanks to the emotional transmission that good leather allows. And more down to earth, it must also ensure the comfort of the horse and the safety of the rider.
It is while working on the sourcing of the material that he observed a notable loss of know-how in saddlery, with a host of smaller workshops each having considerable financial difficulties. Its goal became similar to many current DNVB’s (only 20 years earlier) : restore these workshops to working order, especially by equipping them with more modern machines. That is what would allow him to stock up on saddles, bridles and halters.
a The technical requirements
Guibert Paris is extremely strict about leather and its treatment because of horse riding : for the movements and the grip of the rider, but also for the comfort of the horse, a natural leather is an essential for a saddler worthy of the name.
Two axes are highlighted : the quality of the materials and the crafting. Everything is functional, there is no space for the superfluous.
On the finishes, the saddle stitch is a perfect example of this know-how : it is made thanks to two hand needles, which makes each stitching stronger thanks to stitches facing each other.
Another example : the nickel-plated brass buckles and other hardware, which are designed to withstand the impressive forces when running or jumping. We explain more about this in the bag test.
b Specific materials
The materials used for horse riding are very specific, and one can lose one’s bearings when used to, for example, shoes.
No question here of tanneries such as Du Puy or Annonay, whose specialty is Box Calf : a more nervy leather whose specificity is to regain its shape quickly.
Here you have in front of you all the leathers available at Guibert Paris which are displayed on their cuirotheque. I urge you to take a look at it because everything is well presented. It is an excellent tool to deepen your knowledge about leather.
Guibert Paris is only working with luxury saddlery leathers, also used in leather goods, coming from French tanneries.
Here is the elite : the tanneries Haas and Degermann, world-known specialists of natural calf leather (both bought by Chanel today), the legendary tannery Gal, the only one in the world which masters the extra-slow vegetable tanning, and last but not least, the reference for taurillon leather, the tannery Carriat, about which we will talk about later.
Those materials are the only ones to be able to combine two opposite qualities : solidity and suppleness, essential in horse riding and much looked for in luxury leather goods.
c The transition to digital : legitimacy and price-quality ratio
The following lines are very business oriented; you can skip to the next part if you are not interested in that. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend that you read them since they will help you understand the quality of the offer of the brand better.
Before this transition to direct distribution, the Fontes bag cost 1120€ and the wallet was 260€. Even at that time, it was already a very competitive price compared to what is made at other saddlers leather goods shops.
Pierre Guibert noticed however a progressive change in the attitude of the consumers : they used to give importance to the universe of a shop and a good merchandising allowed more sales.
Today, we tend to buy what we need more directly and online than before. It is this change in particular that explains the bankruptcy of many multi-brands.
As a result, the distributors’ margin no longer really makes sense and it becomes necessary to control the entire production chain, from creation to distribution.
That is why he then decided in September 2019 to only sell Guibert products in shop and online, where he controls the entire process.
This analysis shows that Pierre Guibert is both aware of what is happening in the classic distribution circuit, but he has also gone digital by taking into account the offer of the same kind that already existed: the famous DNVB, so as to remain competitive with them.
The biggest advantage of Guibert Paris is that the price-quality ratio BEFORE the digital transition was already proven : with equal materials and finishes, the Fontes bag and the wallet were already sold at the very least 50% less expensive than other luxury brands (I already invited you to check on what is made in taurillon leather, the price is mind blowing).
It would not be difficult to imagine that a bag of that dimension, with such a luxurious materials and finishes, from a saddler-leather goods shop nearby the Champs Elysées, would easily cost 2000€. In any case, that is what most brands with this level of know-how, and storefront, have accustomed us to.
Anyway, we are far from the freshly created DNVB which announce a product 50% cheaper than in « traditional trade » (obviously, the ones I tell you about on the blog are all reliable).
The usual path of a customer since September is really eye-opening: the 25/40 year olds discover the brand thanks to the e-shop. Then, they come to the shop to reassure themselves and buy (of course, it is quite hard to experience the extreme high quality while online).
Digital also answers the issues of foreign markets: when Guibert Paris used to lean on prestigious multi-brands, especially American and Japanese, the brand managed to stay close to its public through its website.
The saddler DNA and the perfectionism behind each and every product seduced a lot of Japanese customers in particular.
Anyway, I insist on the business aspect because, since meeting with a lot of business owners, it is EXTREMELY rare to encounter someone with as much legitimacy and know-how about such a narrow field (worth mentioning, a bit perceived by the public as old-fashioned and elitist). He also has both a lucid eye and is well informed about the digital aspect.
II Test and finishes of the Fontes bag
First, we have chosen to test the Fontes bag, a bag inspired by a sports bag of the 70s and 80s with a size between the 24h and 48h bag.
The material : the taurillon leather
On both products, the leather use is a taurillon Pessoa leather, from the most prestigious Basque tannery, Remy Carriat, based in Espelette (like the chili pepper, it is hard to be more Basque than that), created in 1927 which has quickly become the world reference for taurillon leather.
They work with several luxury houses, whose creations cost up to thousands of euros.
The leathers used by Guibert cost between 60 to 140€ per meter, whereas those used in other luxury brands are between 50 to 60€.
The taurillon Pessoa is drummed (a finishing touch that adds suppleness to the skin and gives it a more textured aspect), glossy mat and with a very fine grain. It is extremely supple and has a rich touch.
The colors available at Guibert Paris are very distinctive, and it is not a coincidence you have never seen them before : first they are exclusive to the brand (thanks to its very privileged relations with the tannery), and they require a very advanced technique to achieve such rich and deep colors.
The work on the color here is quite impressive: it is a sapphire blue in which they added a lot of purple (which does not show at first).
Ageing and care
The semi-aniline tanning at Carriat allows the leather to resist everyday wear and tear : as a reminder, a good tanning adds a protective layer on the leather, which you can particularly feel on full grain leather.
The recommendations of the brand regarding the care and ageing of the leather are quite clear.
Leather work for the Fontes bag
The material requirement for this type of bag is very specific: it must be thin to remain light, but firm enough to keep its shape (and not crush on itself) and bearing.
On a skin, we do not use every part, especially when we must choose leathers with a high degree of requirement peculiar to horse riding: Guibert Paris only uses the half back. It is the part of the skin that is denser, from the most muscled part of the body; the back.
We can tell, looking at this drawing that it does not represent a large part of the skin.
Many other brands will also use the other part of the skin (for example, the belly, the legs, parts where the leather is thinner) but will hide their imperfections, which can create bad surprises after a few months of wear, often on bags bought for hundreds of euros.
Even on a very good skin, the skin is very thin at the extremities and the durability of the leather will not be better than the one of a common split leather.
Thereby, Guibert Paris only keeps 40% of the skins.
The polished link zipper
What we look for when we buy a zipper is its resilience. Then when using it, we can tell if it is comfortable or not. It is not uncommon to unintentionally hurt ourselves with it, so we become more aware while putting things in or out (which is a shame for a bag supposed to be used every day).
It is absolutely not the case here since it is an extremely comfortable polished link zipper (I would have never imagined I would use this word to talk about a zipper) from a confidential Italian maker, which costs, to give you an idea, three times the cost of the high-end YKK zippers.
The stirrup buckle
The stirrup buckle is used in saddlery to link the stirrup to the saddle: it is a very technical buckle to make, designed to hold in the most demanding conditions.
For example, the buckle must not break when the horse lands from a 1m50 high jump, with all the inertia and power applied to the average weight of a rider.
The smooth inside
You cannot cheat on the quality of the leather when you offer a non-lined inside : it is obvious here and the suede inside is smooth and velvety. The bag has another zipped pocket, very useful to carry everyday objects (wallet, phone etc.).
The reinforced bottom
Everything is a question of balance in this bag, and the bottom makes no exception : it is about finding a bottom, not too rigid nor too supple.
Imagine the bag empty : with a too rigid bottom, the sides will crush on themselves. With a too supple bottom, the bag will not have any support and will not stand on its own.
The inconvenience of this kind of bag when empty is that, esthetically, it is not very good looking when put on a table and we witness it slowly fall on itself and become a shapeless heap.
The exercise is very delicate : we have here a reinforced bottom with a leather slab, with four metal nails.
Thread, stitch and sewing
This is a thread technique from Amman, the Rolls of threads who equips luxury brands. Once again, it is extremely resilient thanks to the high requirements of the saddler-leather goods Guibert : they are made out of a dense weaving of 26 threads.
Bonus point : they catch the light well, which highlights the saddle stitch.
We can see handmade stopping points to consolidate the handles.
Conseils de style
What is interesting with taurillon is that the leather is extremely versatile : textured enough to fit with a casual outfit, and yet the grain is fine enough to not stand out too much at work.
The sapphire blue color is exactly in the same logic : at first sight it is a blue that can perfectly be used on a week-end, but its purple undertones give it the required elegance fitted for a more formal event.
The Fontes bag is available here at 495 euros.
III Test and opinion on the slim wallet
The idea behind this wallet is to offer an elegant item that one can easily carry in a suit (jacket or pants) without distorting the pockets.
As we told you before in multiple advice articles, we cannot take everything on us : this wallet allows you to carry six cards as well as an ID and driving license.
We will not talk about the materials and threads again, since they are the same as the Fontes bag.
Handmade ultimate finish, it signs off the beauty of any leather piece. It can represent, in luxury, up to 30% of the manufacturing time and demands a real dexterity. The edges are square cut (rounded without sharp edge, as in riding), manually sanded to be able to receive the first layer of varnish that will then allow the fixing of the staining dye.
Once the varnish is dry, we apply a first layer of staining dye on the edge, which we will sand manually. This step will be repeated four times in order to have a perfectly covered and smooth edge. At the end of the fourth time, the staining edge will be slightly heated to be satiny and waxed.
As I told you earlier, Pierre Guibert only swears by natural materials, but he had to make a concession on the lining of the wallet to offer the thinnest item possible. It is synthetic, which make the inside much thinner and easier to use than if it was non lined leather.
The slim wallet is available here at 130€.
As you can already tell, I had a huge crush for Guibert Paris, which offers the whole qualities of a horse riding brand with a cutting-edge know-how and 20 years of experience without playing the card of the image, while adopting a lucid and relevant DNVB-like strategy (with so much more legitimacy than a new brand freshly graduated from a business school).
I cannot advise you enough to visit their website, and if you are lucky enough to live or stop by Paris, go to see their products at their shop.